In my last post I introduced you to a foundational principle of naturopathic medicine called "balancing the determinants of health". These "determinants of health" are: breath, water, nutrition, sleep and exercise. Each of these is important in its own right and balance of all 5 is the key to maintaining health.
In this and the following few blog posts I will be focusing on the area of exercise through the practice of individual yoga poses. As I briefly described in my last post, yoga combines strength, flexibility and breath exercises while offering a gateway to the deeper philosophical inquiries that come from the experiences we have as human "beings". It's a great segue into the meditative mindset and the art of mindful living.
Every few days I will be introducing one new pose and offering you the opportunity to experience for yourself the value of the pose. The poses I have chosen to highlight are by no means the "best" of all poses. They were chosen to help you focus on specific aspects of your physical apparatus but not to challenge you so much as to keep you from allowing your mind to move towards introspection. You may be quite surprised what these relatively simple poses can offer you!
When we push the physical too much, we lose balance in the ability to process the experience in the psyche. When we lose connection between thoughts and the physical experience, there is a strong tendency towards anxiety and/or depression. This occurs because it seems as if the world is doing something "to" us when we could be experiencing the world as our own creation. Slowing down physically allows you to perceive the world properly - as our own creation. The mind is the architect and the physical body is the builder. Furthermore, the project is never "completed" and is always evolving into something better if we let it.
Before going into the first pose let me start with some general ideas for you to consider.
Practice only if you choose to do so and if you feel healthy enough to do so.
You might want to follow the linked video showing you how to get into the pose if you've never done it before
Allow 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to experience the pose
Practice barefoot if possible and on a firm surface
Maintain the pose for the entire 5 minutes if possible. Rest only if needed and make subtle adjustments along the way to explore your body's capabilities within the pose.
Plan to do your pose once in the morning and once in the evening for 3 consecutive days
Pain is not a call to "push through". Stop and rest if there's pain
It might even be worthwhile to keep a notebook handy to jot down any insights gained during your practice.
You may experience different emotions during your practice. Let them come to light so you can determine how they are contributing to the creation of your life (positively or not). Happiness always serves your best interest! Boredom is the indication that you are not engaged in the practice.
Pay attention throughout your day to see where your pose practice supports your activities (movements or thought processes)
Now for our first pose....
This very basic-looking stance pose looks extremely simple, but how you experience it can speak volumes about your current approach to life.
Begin by considering the name itself - "mountain pose". The majestic mountain was formed by an upheaval of the earth and now stands as an extremely stable and awe-inspiring part of our landscape. I would venture to say that the majority of people in our society today are experiencing a sense of upheaval as opposed to calm and stable. If this includes you, mountain pose will greatly benefit you. You can align yourself with the qualities of the mountain as you practice this pose. Mountain pose is perfect during the days leading up to Christmas and the new year.
Getting into mountain pose.
Set your timer for 5 minutes
Stand with your big toes touching and heals apart a few inches (This sets the tone for the action in the legs - slight internal rotation)
Straighten the legs and feel your gluteal/buttock muscles tighten as you reach your arms as high above you as possible with the palms facing each other
Hold this full extension position for a couple of breath cycles then slowly let your arms come down to your sides and turn the palms to face forward
While in mountain pose:
Tune in to your breath cycle. A steady and complete breath cycle is necessary for optimal oxygenation of your cells
Find a balance between your feet - notice where you tend to lean and sway (forward, backward, left or right) as this can indicate where any muscle imbalances are.
Notice the balance of your pelvis as you flex both the quads and the glutes to maintain structure at your core. (read more about the benefits of mula bandha or "root binding" here)
Move in and out of straight knee position to maintain a supple yet strong stance in the legs
Encourage and maintain the outward rotation of your palms by flexing your back muscles to draw the shoulder blades together and open the chest. This puts the shoulder in a more secure and stable alignment to easily hold the palms in a forward facing position.
Coming out of mountain pose
Simply relax your mid-body and go about your day!
Here's a basic video showing mountain pose being performed with slight modifications to the positions of the hands and feet.
Enjoy this pose for now and I'll be introducing a new pose in a few days!